Chronic pain sufferers are being interviewed in a supply closet and asked to wait years for treatment at one Vancouver clinic, a CTV News investigation has revealed.

Anesthesiologist Jill Osborn works in the acute and chronic pain division at St. Paul’s Hospital, one of few non-private providers of multidisciplinary assessment, consultation and treatment in the Lower Mainland.

But Osborn said a lack of funding has led to waitlists of between one and three years at the facility, depending on the severity of a patient’s condition.

“They are suffering and it’s not acceptable for them to be waiting that long for treatment,” she said, adding that extended periods of pain can affect a person’s emotions, social life, family and career.

“By the time a person’s had chronic pain for six years they are very depressed and have many social issues as well.”

Adding insult to injury, when patients arrive at St. Paul’s hospital for an assessment they have the option of being interviewed within earshot of other patients or, if they prefer privacy, being sat down at a wood table in a narrow supply closet.

“If nurses need something from the closet, they will knock on the door and the interview will be interrupted,” Osborn said. “They will go in and get what they need and they’ll leave and then we’ll start the interview again.”

“My concern is that we are not providing the right message to the patient – that they’re important to us – when they’re interviewed in a closet.”

Osborn said the hospital’s in-patient psychiatrists and rehabilitation medicine specialists also use the closet for interviews.

The problem for chronic pain patients extends far beyond the South Coast as well, as resources are even scarcer in B.C.’s Interior.

Eighty-three-year-old Sture Kallman recently drove eight hours to access a specialist at St. Paul’s after spending years on a waiting list.

“Two to three years seems like 10 to 15 years,” Kallman said. “It would have been nice if I would have been able to get in sooner… and maybe things would be better for me today.”

Different studies have pegged the number of Canadians suffering from pain disorder at anywhere from 10 to 44 per cent of the population, but B.C. doctors say their funding is falling far behind patients’ needs and there aren't enough specialists trained in the area of chronic pain.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid acknowledged the “extremely difficult” wait time for pain patients and said the province is working on a solution.

“There have been some additional financial resources put in for the doctors who practice in this area… and some of that may be able to go to this,” MacDiarmid said.

She also said the planned redevelopment of St. Paul’s Hospital could result in shorter wait times and, potentially, a larger space that would eliminate the need for closet-space consultation.

“The end of that development is years away, but it will get started, and as the site is redeveloped there will be some moving around as services,” she said.

The minister could not say with certainty that chronic pain patients would be moved to a better facility, or when the move might take place.

MacDiarmid added that while the physical space at St. Paul’s may be lacking, “the standard of care that’s being provided is fantastic.”

With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Mi-Jung Lee

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